If the bruising GOP primary campaign doesn't produce a likely nominee in relatively short order, is there a possibility the outcome of the race could hinge on California?
Distant though that prospect may seem, how many pundits had predicted -- early on -- the increasingly intense attacks among the Republican contenders?
The Texas primary, on May 29, and California's, on June 5 together offer nearly a third of the delegates needed to win the GOP nomination.
If the race isn't wrapped up before then, there's concern within the GOP that the party will have put itself too far behind the curve to recover for a win in November?
"The sooner we have a nominee, the sooner we'll be able to discuss Barack Obama's record," says Tony Krvaric, chairman of the Republican Party of San Diego County. "Until then, it will be muddled in all kinds of different directions. So while I want it to wrap up sooner than later, the process is going to take whatever it takes. There'll be plenty of time to vet the President."
And at this point, the President's campaign handlers are only too happy to see his rivals keep wrestling among themselves.
There's momentum from GOP elders and strategists to call for unity behind Romney.
But will he be able to 'walk back' to a centrist stance after his appeals to the rightmost wing of the party?
"There's a lot of documentation of everything that he's had to say to get to that point," says Jess Durfee, chairman of the San Diego County Democratic Party. "Those things will not be forgotten. They will certainly be reappearing in ad campaigns in the media and elsewhere in the fall, as Mitt Romney tries to reinvent himself."
Says Chuck Todd, NBC News political director "(Romney has) a base that's always going to try to rein him, and is always going to have moments where it's 'A-haa!' And he's got to be careful. There's always ways a conservative challenger could say, 'Y'know what? I'm going to go the Third Party route'."
The latest NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll shows alarming fallout for the Republicans from all the internal warfare.
Women and Latino voters seem disaffected.
But Krvaric tends to see more upside than otherwise in the party’s future odds of winning.
"Last time," he says, "the Democrats had their nomination go all the way through May, and you didn't see all the hand-wringing at that time. And obviously, it worked out for the Democrats. So I don't think it's a bad thing at the end of the day."
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